July 06, 2006
Merriam-Webster Defines "Spyware"
By Eric Goldman
A lot of attention has been directed to Merriam-Webster's addition of Google to its dictionary--as a verb, no less. I'm sure the Google trademark department isn't thrilled about the genericide implications of this.
Meanwhile, this announcement overshadowed another significant addition to the dictionary: Merriam-Webster also defined the term "spyware" as follows:
software that is installed in a computer without the user's knowledge and transmits information about the user's computer activities over the Internet
I thought this was a competent and pithy (22 words!) definition. It captures what I think are the three essential elements of spyware:
* the software watches user behavior
* the software reports this information somewhere other than the user's hard drive
* the software isn't consensual
Perhaps this definition will become the long-desired standard definition of spyware. Productive dialogue is only possible with standardized nomenclature, and the Anti-Spyware Coalition definitions, while competent, haven't really emerged as the standard.
Posted by Eric at July 6, 2006 05:42 PM | Adware/Spyware
I agree that it's a good thing to get , and I'm also thinking I like the M-W definition as well. I might ask if your third element could be elaborated upon -- I like M-W's 'installed ... without the user's knowledge' idea, since it overcomes the arguments made by those who slip 'consent' into long contract forms.
In lawyer-speak, M-W (I interpret...) requires actual knowledge on the part of the end-user of what the software is intended to do, which is more than 'consent' to install the software in our world of form agreements and the accompanying constructive knowledge that we presume for the purposes of making the law of contracts actually work. (Only lawyers are willing to allow for constructive knowledge -- I daresay that most others think what a lawyer defines as constructive knowledge actually means "didn't know.")
Posted by: Michael Fleming at July 7, 2006 12:19 PM
I guess I didn't read it so technically. I think the "knowledge" here could be actual or constructive. However, the legal standard seems to be evolving towards something more actual than constructive. See, e.g., http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2005/08/ftc_says_no_und.htm Eric.
Posted by: Eric Goldman at July 31, 2006 09:21 PM